A little over a year ago, I was asked to speak at a church. I remember perusing the church bulletin and seeing this:
We DESPERATELY need volunteers to help with our children’s and youth ministries. No experience needed, just a willingness to sacrifice your time and money.
If interested, contact …
As I read that ad, I literally burst out laughing. My first thought was, Who in their right mind would respond to this?
So if this is not the proper manner, how should we go about recruiting volunteers? Let me offer some simple steps.
1. Pray. Far too often we skip this step, and yet it is the most important step we take. We need to seek God’s guidance before we start this task and allow him to guide us to the right people.
2. Know your needs. What exactly do you need the volunteers to do? Create a list of the roles and responsibilities you need for all areas of the youth ministry. Regularly refer to this list to make sure all your needs are covered.
3. Create and keep a list of potential volunteers. When you’re facing a crisis, that usually isn’t the best time to start thinking about volunteers. Create a list ahead of time of potential staff you are looking at to fill future needs. Use the church staff, current volunteers and even your students to suggest names for this list.
4. Try to recruit a diverse team. The makeup of the volunteers should, in some way, be reflective of the makeup of the church. Look at issues such as race, age, sex, personal interests, etc. Too often we recruit only young adults, believing they will best be able to relate to adolescents. However, my experience has shown that having a mixture of young adults, middle adults and even senior adults is desirable because each brings wisdom and life experience to the task.
5. Keep the congregation abreast of youth ministries. I operated on a simple principle: A bulletin or newsletter never left the church office without some mention of the youth ministry in it. I regularly asked the pastor for time in the service to recognize a teen or volunteer or to share with the congregation something positive that was occurring in our youth ministry. Then, when I had to go to them with a need, the response was always much more immediate because they were attuned to the good things the youth ministry was doing.
6. Get to know them and observe their character. This is more than just a job interview; you’re asking people to work with teenagers’ souls. Therefore, we need to make sure we are recruiting people who sincerely love God and are willing to follow your local church’s and/or denomination’s ethos for behavior.
7. Meet with the potential volunteers and share the vision for the youth ministry. Spend some time interviewing them and allow them to ask lots of questions. You want to make sure that they have as many of their questions as possible answered before they are working with the ministry so you don’t end up with a mess later. You also need to ask lots of questions in order to make sure this person is the one you want. Provide an information packet that details the overall vision and plan for the youth ministry and how the job you are recruiting them for fits into that vision.
8. Ask them to fill out an application to volunteer and agree to a criminal background check. This is becoming an ever more important issue as churches routinely face lawsuits from families whose children were abused in some way by volunteers who hadn’t been properly vetted by the local church. Make sure you are following the policy for your local church or denomination on this because each state has different requirements.
9. Provide a job description. Nothing frustrates volunteers more than not knowing what they are supposed to be doing. Make it explicit, and give them a time frame. You can always “re-up” them at the end of that time period, but they need to know that they aren’t committing to this for the rest of their lives!
10. Invite new volunteers to fill short-term, helping roles. This helps them get to know the kids well and discover whether this ministry is for them. Consider it a trying-out process for both you and them.
11. Train them! Give them the tools necessary to help them succeed. Pair them with experienced volunteers. Hold regular training sessions for all your volunteers. Suggest (or even provide) reading material for them. Encourage, challenge and support them.
This list is not new. Variations of it have been at the core of good volunteer recruiting and training for centuries. The key is actually thinking far enough ahead to know what needs you have, the type of people required to meet the need and the best way to recruit them to the mission. Using this list can be a major step forward in that process.